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Haiti: 150,000 earthquake victims have been buried

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The truckers filling Haiti's mass graves with bodies reported ever-higher numbers: More than 150,000 quake victims have been buried by the government, an official said yesterday.

That doesn't count those still under the debris, carried off by relatives or killed in the outlying quake zone.

"Nobody knows how many bodies are buried in the rubble - 200,000? 300,000? Who knows the overall death toll?" said the official, Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue.

Dealing with the living, meanwhile, a global army of aid workers was getting more food into people's hands, but acknowledged falling short. "We wish we could do more, quicker," said UN World Food Program chief Josette Sheeran, visiting Port-au-Prince.

In the Cite Soleil slum, U.S. soldiers and Brazilian UN peacekeeping troops distributed food. Lunie Marcelin, 57, said the handouts will help her and six grown children "but it is not enough. We need more."

Yet another aftershock, one of more than 50 since the great quake Jan. 12, shook Port-au-Prince yesterday, registering 4.7 magnitude, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The Haitian government was urging many of the estimated 600,000 homeless huddled in open areas of Port-au-Prince, a city of 2 million, to look for better shelter with relatives or others in the countryside.

Some 200,000 were believed already to have done so, most taking advantage of free government transportation, and others formed a steady stream out of the city yesterday.

International experts looked for sites to erect tent cities for quake refugees on the capital's outskirts, but such short-term solutions were still weeks away, said the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental agency. "We also need tents. There is a shortage of tents," said Vincent Houver, the agency's chief of mission in Haiti.

In the aftermath of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, the casualty estimates have been necessarily tentative. Lassegue told The Associated Press the government's figure of 150,000 buried, from the capital area alone, was reported by CNE, a state company collecting corpses and burying them north of Port-au-Prince.

That number would tend to confirm an overall estimate of 200,000 dead reported last week by the European Commission, citing Haitian government sources. The United Nations, meanwhile, was sticking with an earlier confirmed death toll of at least 111,481, based on recovered bodies.

The final casualty estimates, which the European Commission said also include some 250,000 injured, will clearly place the Haiti quake among the deadliest natural catastrophes of recent times. That list includes: the 1970 Bangladesh cyclone, believed to have killed 300,000 people; the 1974 northeast China earthquake, which killed at least 242,000 people; and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, with 226,000 dead.

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